If you’ve ever seen a photo of old electronics tossed into a huge pile in a landfill, then you’ve probably gotten a pretty good snapshot of the global growing e-waste crisis. We’re going through technology just as quickly as we produce it, and devices are becoming obsolete in record time.

The problem? Those devices end up in landfills. 

But how is e-waste so different from other kinds of trash? Don’t we rely on landfills to get rid of most of our waste?

Yes, but e-waste disposal comes with its own set of problems.

Health & Environmental Concerns

E-waste that is not recycled properly poses a major threat to both community health and the environment. Much of the world’s old electronics are shipped to developing countries, where it is broken down for resale in unsafe ways.

Toxic plastics and heavy metals leach into the soil, water, and air, causing harm to the local population and the environment.

Salvageable Materials

In addition to toxic materials, electronics also contain precious metals like gold, silver, and copper, which can be re-used to create the next generation of devices. This also prevents some damage to the environment, as the demand for raw, natural resources is reduced.

Biodegradable Electronics: A Better Way

We’ve got lots of reasons to keep electronics out of landfills, but if we can’t start recycling more of our e-waste, the problem is just going to get worse. We need another way. Bright minds are already searching for a new solution, and as Electronic Recyclers note, that may involve something a little bit unconventional:

“But what if instead of the complicated mess of scrapping down or refurbishing electronics, our devices quickly and safely broke down in landfills? The innovations over the past few years might not make that sound so crazy. Could biodegradable electronics really be the answer to the e-waste crisis?”
biodegradable electronics submerged dissolve

courtesy John Rogers

It’s all a dream right now, but for several years, researchers have been working with different materials like silicone and wood, in an attempt to create electronic components that can be broken down safely, in some cases simply by submerging the devices in water.

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), based in Germany, has been working with silicone and plant bases recently,and while researcher Gerardo Hernandez-Sosa admits,

“These may not be as long-lived as the inorganic alternatives,” they don’t really need to be. The rate of technology obsolescence is only going to move more quickly as time goes on.

The Future of E-Waste Disposal

Of course, biodegradable electronics would change the landscape of e-waste recycling dramatically–if companies even chose to produce them. Only time will tell as to weather the dream of eco-friendly electronics becomes a reality.

 

Are biodegradable electronics a realistic solution? What are your thoughts?


Ronnie Deaver Profile PicAuthor Bio: Ronnie is the Marketing Manager for ICT Asset Recovery. He loves swing dancing, wine, responsible recycling and adventuring around the world. A recent transplant from Texas, he’s been soaking in the Boston scene and diligently working with ICT to promote the message of responsible e-waste recycling.

Sources:
Forbes
Electronic Recyclers International

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